People More Likely to Defer Making Decisions the Longer They Wait

May 26, 2016

Would you rather eat an apple or a banana? Read Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities? Is a cup or a mug holding that coffee?

How quickly the decision gets made matters. That’s because the longer someone takes to draw a conclusion, the more likely that person will disengage from the process altogether and simply never decide.

This phenomenon is called choice deferral, and it’s the topic of a new paper published in Cognitive Psychology by Sudeep Bhatia, an assistant professor of psychology, in collaboration with Timothy Mullett of the University of Warwick. They found that, on average, if more than 3.5 seconds passes without a decision happening, none will likely occur for the choice at hand.

“You can imagine that, if you’re going to buy a car, you’re going to spend more than three and a half seconds,” says Bhatia. “This parameter would vary based on the importance of the choice or even based on the setting. A person who only had a single choice would probably spend a little more time on it.”

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